On Lent and nonviolence

It’s Lent.

And I can feel the change in the air.

The stifling humidity of summer, the burning rays of sun that begin at dawn and end at dusk, are mellowing. The air at night is cool and clear. It keeps threatening to rain, but it never does.

I have never observed Lent. I grew up Baptist and it was never a “thing”. We sort of knew it was happening, and other people observed it, but it wasn’t something that meant anything to us. My sister started observing it several years ago, but I never asked her why…it just seemed like an extra rule to follow, another ritual to take part in to feel super spiritual. I didn’t want that pressure. So I never observed it.

But this morning I knew it was Shrove Tuesday, and I made sure we had pancakes. And tomorrow – I want to go to an Ash Wednesday service. I want to participate in Lent somehow this year. It would have to be low-pressure, low-key. Not because I can’t be bothered, but because I don’t want to promise to give up chocolate or TV and then not follow through. But maybe I will light a candle with my boys once a week, and say a simple prayer. (Sacraparental had some great ideas which I may be able to draw upon).

I desire more reflection and a slower, quieter approach to God these days. I like the idea of a rhythm. I’ve been trying to read along with the lectionary a little bit, although I keep missing days, because I haven’t made it a proper habit. Like everything right now, I am just trying to fit it in. I have stopped meditating in the evening after my boys fall asleep, and I miss it. I feel like every day I hold my breath to see what fresh hell is transpiring in the US or here in Australia. I am kind of tuning it out right now. I read it, I take a deep breath, and I move on, because I feel powerless to do much. And I like to pick my battles. And I like to have a considered approach. I am learning about nonviolence, and I want my words and actions to be nonviolent, even when I am raging internally. Nonviolence is about peace within, as well as peace without. It’s about having love and treating people with dignity simply because they are a human being, even when I fundamentally and vehemently disagree with them.

It is really, really hard.

About a year ago I watched online a gathering of people who came together to work on the Sanctuary movement – opening churches in Brisbane to protect asylum seekers who were in danger of being sent back to offshore detention. One of the speakers telling us as protesters that we needed to do the necessary spiritual work and reflection to take the anger that our opponents might send towards us, and to turn it back as love. I am finding that the necessary spiritual work and reflection to be like that is, well, never-ending, really. I don’t think I will ever have arrived in this regard. There will never be a moment when I am not tempted to turn back anger as anger, or insult as insult. But, as the saying goes, never repay anyone evil for evil…overcome evil with good…all I can do is simply try.

This Lent, as a time of reflection and repentance, I am looking for peace within to accompany my work for peace without.

Where do you find peace when things seem a bit of a mess, either in the world, or in your world? How do you try to maintain respect and uphold the dignity of others even when you would rather not?

 

Want justice? Get persistent.

There was an Immigration Minister in a certain city who didn’t care about anything beyond “stop the boats”, and let abuse continue on his watch. Refugee advocates came to him repeatedly, saying, “Close the camps! Bring them here! Let them stay!” The Minister ignored them for awhile, but finally he said to himself, “I don’t fear the Greens or care about what the Loony Left think, but these advocates are driving me crazy. I’m going to see refugees get justice, because these advocates are wearing me out with their constant requests!” 

This little story is based on a story Jesus once told. (Loosely based. Very loosely.) When I was thinking about what I could do this year to help asylum seekers and refugees in detention, and how I could best engage with the powers-that-be, it sprang to mind. Here’s how the original goes:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’  The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people,  but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:1-8, NLT)

Leaving aside for the moment that sometimes I do wonder if God is actually going to give justice, I can see a few parallels between the situation our asylum seekers are in, and this story. I am using this parable for inspiration on two levels:

  1. The inspiration to persist in asking for change.

    The widow wore the unjust judge out. She made a pest of herself. She didn’t change the character of the judge – he never pretended to care about God or people – but she did change his decision, through her persistence. Justice did win the day.

    There are so many of us who have good points to make about the detention situation, both on social media and to our friends – but how often do we take those to the politicians? What would happen if for every comment we made on social media about the offshore detention situation, we also sent it to the Immigration Minister here or the Prime Minister here? Or if not every comment, once a day we sent a brief Tweet or email? Once a day, every day of the year, multiplied by every advocate you know. Polite comments. But firm comments. That would be immense pressure. So my plan is to be one of those voices that persists in speaking to the government, asking for change, letting them know that the public eye is on them, and we want justice.

    We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. Martin Luther King

  2. The inspiration to persist in prayer.

    Even though I have lots of questions and some doubts, I am still a follower of Jesus, and his main point was about pestering God for justice. Now why it hasn’t already happened, I do not know. I cannot answer that question. Nor am I going to attempt to right now – I’m ok with accepting that it hasn’t happened yet, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    Jesus this song you wrote
    The words are sticking in my throat
    Peace on earth.  U2, ‘Peace on Earth’.

    So with those words sticking in my throat, my plan is to persist in asking God for justice in this situation. Will it happen? I do not know. That’s what faith is – not having certainty, but trying anyway. Is it pointless? Maybe, but maybe not. I think in this case it’s better to try and fail than to not try. At this point there’s not much to lose.

 

This year, may we wear out our welcome, and see justice come about through persistence.

Australia cares about your mental health…unless you’re an asylum seeker

Today an article from NZ Radio was published, outlining mental disorders that a group of asylum seekers are suffering due to their time in Australian offshore detention centres.

Australia’s policy is to lock up people who arrive by boat without visas/passports/papers. Or to turn back their boats and leave them in international waters. People who are locked up in our offshore detention centres on Nauru Island or Manus Island (near Papua New Guinea) are there indefinitely, even though they haven’t committed crimes. The vast majority of people arriving in Australia via boat are genuine refugees, according to the government’s information. But they aren’t resettled in Australia, as per Australia’s Operation Sovereign Border’s policy.

Hope withers and dies when there is no chance of being set free. The people on Nauru and Manus are suffering severe mental disorders due to the indefinite nature of their detention and the conditions they have to live in. (Warning: links to the following files may contain distressing information)

One of the detainees on Manus Island, a cartoonist who is nicknamed ‘Eaten Fish‘, has OCD, panic attacks and PTSD.

So during Mental Health week, and as part of OCD Awareness Week, let’s take a few moments to remember the people who are suffering these conditions. They are people just like us, who had to make a difficult choice to get away from their home and restart life. They might have done it for their kids or themselves. They might have converted to a religion that is disallowed back at home. Whatever the reason, they are people, and should be treated with basic respect and care.  Not only can we remember them, but we can do something helpful for them. Here are some options:

  • Donate time, money or resources to We Care Nauru, an organisation that sends donations to the asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru to provide for their physical needs and help them know they’re not forgotten
  • Join an asylum seeker or refugee advocacy group like Mums 4 RefugeesLove Makes A WayRefugee Action Collective or ASRC (Asylum Seeker Resource Centre) or follow them on Facebook (Mums 4 Refugees, Love Makes a Way, RAC, ASRC). There are plenty of other groups too, there will be one that you’ll fit into.
  • Contact your local MP and discuss the situation with them. Ask them to advocate for refugee mental health.
  • Contact the Minister for Immigration (I called his Canberra office this week, and the lady who answered the phone was lovely, so no need to be frightened!)
  • Contact the Prime Minister
  • Contact the Minister for Health and suggest she look into the mental health conditions of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus.

Even though this seems like a mountain we can’t move, we can be like thousands of tiny water droplets constantly dripping on the mountain – we are going to cut a path and eventually break that rock down, if only we don’t give up.

 

Blogroll

My YouTube channel (feel free to subscribe!)

Shalom Aleichem OCD vlog (this girl rocks!)

Jon Hershfield’s blog (informative, funny, helpful. Gold.)

The International OCD Foundation blog (THE resource for all things OCD related)

Alison Dotson’s blog – OCD advocate

We Have Apples – a musical about mental illness by the talented Rachel!

Ellen’s OCD blog

Janet’s blog – OCD advocate

Morgan’s blog – OCD advocate

The Secret Illness project

Adrian Plass – one of my favourite authors of all time

Stephen McAlpine – interesting thoughts on Christianity, particularly in Australia

Let me know if you’d like me to link your mental health/faith-related blog/vlog/other online presence.

That Target sweater (or: “I’m so offended by people who are offended!”)

Well, by now I’m sure everyone has heard about that Target sweater in the US that says OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder.

OCD Christmas sweater – (PS love how they call Christmas sweaters ‘ugly’ and that’s actually a selling point! Australia just doesn’t have this Christmas tradition at all).

Some OCD advocates have felt that this has made light of the illness, increases stigma and therefore Target should stop selling the sweater. Others with OCD feel that it’s not a big deal. However, no matter what camp you’re in, people with OCD have had to take to Twitter or Facebook and defend their views either way, because of the mass shaming that has taken place.

Comments like, “Obsessive Crybaby Disorder”, “whiny” and “butthurt” have been plastered all over social media in reference to anyone who has expressed their disagreement with the sweater being sold. “Too politically correct…everyone is offended by everything. Get over it.” Words along those lines. And so the people advocating for the sweater to be removed have to not only contend with fighting stigma, but must also defend their opinion and put up with a barrage of abuse as well. Those with OCD who aren’t offended are also being shamed and feel they have to justify themselves and state how they’re “not offended”.

Are people so offended by others expressing offence?

It seems like it’s cool right now to say how stupid people are for being offended or getting upset, but not acknowledge your own anger or outrage. It seems like it’s cool to name-call someone who is stating their opinion without stopping to recognise that by engaging in that behaviour, you’re doing the very thing you’re saying is so bad. And it seems like Target is the only winner here with some cheap publicity.

In my opinion, people with OCD are allowed to feel however they do about this sweater, and have the right to say so. Silencing their voices, shaming them – this is what leads to stigma. And this is what OCDvocates care about most of all –  reducing stigma – not whether Target decides to generate some cheap PR by perpetuating this controversy or selling a silly sweater.

We all wish OCD was as fun as enjoying Christmas. Believe me, if OCD really did stand for Obsessive Christmas Disorder, we would be lining up for it and proudly wearing the sweater to proclaim we have it. We wouldn’t have to worry about compulsions taking over our lives unless we actively fight them, doing anxiety-inducing ERP exercises, spending money on therapy, etc etc etc.

But OCD is not nice or fun. It’s a serious mental disorder. It is treatable and there is a lot of hope for people who get treatment. But stigma and shame prevent people from seeking treatment. And I’m afraid the conversation around this sweater has been far, far more damaging than the sweater itself – not just to people with OCD, but to those who don’t have it. After all, why would they take time to learn more about the condition and what it really entails if all they hear is that it’s just a bunch of whiners and crybabies?

Fortunately, I know the OCD community are not whiners or crybabies. They have sucked it up far longer than most. They deal with pain and anxiety silently. And it’s going to take a lot more than a silly Christmas sweater and a bunch of rude comments to de-rail the efforts of OCDvocates.

If you have OCD, I am really sorry if the comments over the last few days have hurt you. Please do not stop seeking help. Please do not feel you have to go and defend or justify yourself on social media. By all means go ahead and state your opinion boldly if you like. But don’t feel pressured, and don’t allow others to shame you. You have nothing to be ashamed of, however you feel about the sweater.

OCD Not Me #OCDweek

The IOCDF are running a video competition for OCD Week which is 11-17 October. So this is my attempt at a poem explaining some of my journey with OCD and hopefully clearing up a few misconceptions too. 

I was really nervous to film myself and put it out there online, as I don’t feel very camera-ready these days. But I decided the message was more important than my own vanity so I went with it. 

Here it is! It’s called OCD Not Me.

OCD Not Me by Nicola Stevens

Your Pics in a Mental Health Music Video! It’s Out TODAY! “Messages To People with Mental Illness”

This is a really inspiring video about overcoming mental illness from Rachel over at wehaveapples.wordpress.com! Check it out!

wehaveapples

I was so touched by the response I got from you guys (WordPress community) when I asked for selfies/pics of you with uplifting messages to people struggling with mental illness. So many of you put your game face on and went to work on photos to encourage, inspire, heal, and reach out to people who are struggling. They are such beautiful photos and brought me to tears (of joy!) You are so brave and kind and you are making a difference with this video, one YouTube viewer at a time!I hope you enjoy the song, which is from the musical I am writing about mental illness.
Here it is! Please share everywhere you can!

If you want to get involved with “We Have Apples” you can check out our website. http://www.wehaveapples.com

#teamapples #endthestigma

View original post

An award?!

With thanks to Lady CAS from Myasthenia Gravis, I’ve been nominated for the Beautiful Blogger Award! Wow! Thank you so much!

bba

The Rules…

  • Link the blogger who took the time to nominate you.
  • List 7 random things about yourself.
  • Nominate 7 creative beautiful bloggers.
  • Notify the bloggers that you nominated their blog for the award.

So my 7 random things:

  • My favourite colour is pink.
  • I didn’t get my driver’s licence until I was in my early 20s.
  • I play the blues.
  • Chocolate is the best. Except for chocolate ice cream, that’s the best too.
  • When I get tired I laugh hysterically at things that aren’t even funny. (But they are to me!)
  • Or I get super irritable and start bossing everyone in my house around!  (I’m the mama bear)
  • I used to read my Bible every day but I’ve been undisciplined and haven’t picked it up in awhile – but I would like to read it more and look forward to it.

I would like to nominate the following wonderful bloggers for inspiring me to blog well, to be brave in facing my mental illness, to share generously and to always learn more and advocate for people who bravely live on with mental illness as their companion.

Thank you again to Lady CAS and all these wonderful bloggers!